Friday, July 31, 2009

Peavy, notes

To many casual fans, the Padres are doing little more than cutting costs, and today's trade of Jake Peavy only reinforced that surface impression.

Who can blame fans for wondering why the conditional sale of the club in March hasn't increased the franchise's ability to spend money on the product?

My response is, stay tuned. I'll add that ownership may need to do a better job of explaining what it's doing, something that may be complicated by the ongoing John Moores divorce.

OK, onto the Peavy trade.

This looks like a potentially big victory for the Padres and new CEO Jeff Moorad -- if, and it's a big if, the club can parlay the $56 million saved into good investments throughout its baseball operations and future payrolls.

The Padres say the trade helps their chances of signing several draft picks, including top pick Donavan Tate, whose adviser, agent Scott Boras, is seeking $6 million and perhaps more if the money is spread out up to five years.

For what it's worth, the Padres regard as first-round talents all three of their unsigned players taken in the top four rounds. Doesn't do much good to draft them and not sign them.

The money also could allow the Padres to resume their aggressive posture in Latin America. In January, Sandy Alderson, the CEO at the time, said the club had budgeted $3 million for its international budget this year. By my math, the club had spent less than half of that after the July 2 deadline passed to sign international amateurs. Rivals such as the Rockies were more aggressive, while also charging hard in the draft.

With Adrian Gonzalez eligible for free agency after the 2011 season, the chance of retaining him may have improved when Peavy accepted the trade to White Sox. Moorad has said the club will listen to serious inquiries on Gonzalez in the offseason, yet even if the Gonzalez talks rekindle, and I expect that they will, clearing the $17 million due Peavy in 2012 gives the Padres more leeway to offer big bucks to Gonzalez.

Gonzalez's agent, John Boggs, told me today it would be nice if the Padres can be aggressive on two fronts -- acquiring talent to assist Gonzalez and, down the road, making him a fair offer. Boggs, though, also said he understands why the Padres might instead deal Gonzalez, because he could bring a lot of talent in return.

Players in Chicago say Peavy will fit in well with his White Sox teammates. Peavy, 28, and his fellow Sox starters could form a tremendous rotation next year.

Looks like a potential winner for both the Padres and Peavy, plus the four pitchers acquired by the Padres, who now get a chance to pitch in a pitchers park, opposite DH-less lineups.

Credit Moorad for not allowing obstacles to prevent him from acting on his long-term vision. The Padres moved a pitcher who often is very good when healthy, yet one whose contract and ankle injury eliminated many potential suitors.

Obviously if Peavy didn't have a no-trade clause, the Padres could have gotten a lot more for him last offseason than they did today. But two clubs I spoke with today said the Padres made a good trade, even a very good one, all things considered.

POWER SURGE

No matter how you slice it, the Padres have done an extraordinary job of acquiring power arms over a short period of time.

Go back to early March. GM Kevin Towers, angry over the dearth of strong arms emerging from the farm system, charged his scouts with finding hot fastballs, and they've brought back nine pitchers who will touch the mid-90s: Richard, Poreda, Russell and Carter from the White Sox; Gallagher, Webb and Italiano from the A's; Mujica from the Indians and Perdomo from the Giants. The Padres are playing to pair of strengths -- Petco Park and the teaching skills of manager Bud Black and pitching coach Darren Balsley, who too often were asked to work miracles with pitchers who lacked a good fastball.

NOTES

A source tells me Heath Bell was nearly dealt to the Dodgers. While mindful that Towers has made trades within the division, I strongly doubt that Gonzalez would've been part of the same deal. Moorad was averse to sending Peavy to the Dodgers, and I believe he'd be even less inclined to send Gonzalez, the face of the franchise, to Chavez Ravine.

The dismissal of hitting coach Jim Lefebvre is disappointing because the man is passionate about baseball, yet it was far from surprising if you read one of my recent posts. His ouster is probably not a great sign for farm system overseer Grady Fuson, who strongly backed Lefebvre's hiring into the job. Fuson, among others, had said that Lefebvre could untrack Kevin Kouzmanoff. But Kouzmanoff's on-base percentage has stayed below .300 most of the season, and he didn't generate interest in the recent trade market.

Axelrod on Peavy trade

Jake Peavy's decision to accept a trade to the White Sox this afternoon largely reflected his belief that none of his favored clubs was likely to come after him in the offseason, said Peavy's agent, Barry Axelrod.

"There's no assurance that one of his prime target teams was going to take a shot at him in the offseason," Axelrod said. "He's coming off an injury. And his contract -- the bottom line is, it's not a bargain, because we're now into the three-years-at-$52-million phase, and the uncertainty due to the injury, and the economy."

Peavy's preferred teams were the Cubs and Dodgers.

In late May, he decided against accepting a trade to the White Sox.

A damaged ankle tendon put Peavy in a walking boot for five weeks, starting in mid-June, and Axelrod reminded White Sox GM Kenny Williams today that Peavy hasn't thrown off a mound since his outing against the Diamondbacks on June 13.

"Frankly I am flabbergasted that the White Sox would want to make this deal with him in this physical condition," Axelrod said. " We are optimistic about the ankle. Jake is prepared to throw off the mound. Jake is optimistic. But he hasn't thrown off a mound in two months. "

Axelrod marveled at how much ground all parties covered between noon and the 1 p.m. trade deadline. He said conversations with Padres CEO Jeff Moorad and Williams were fruitful.

"We had 34 minutes to talk about this," Axelrod said. "It went back and forth three or four times. It just so happened that at 12:57, Jake said go ahead and do it. If it had been 1:05 he might have said, don't do it. The kid's been through a lot."

Citing other factors, Axelrod noted that the White Sox (52-51 and 2.5 games behind the Tigers) are in better playoff contention than when Peavy nixed the deal in late May.

He also said it's clear that the Padres were extra determined to move Peavy's contract, which goes from $11 million to $15 million next year, $16 million in 2011 and $17 million in 2012 with a $4 million buyout on a $22 million club option.

NOTES

I am covering Chargers two-a-day practices today for CBSSports.com but plan to write more on the Peavy trade, plus the firing of hitting coach Jim Lefebvre and other Padres developments. Not surprising that the Padres are holding onto Adrian Gonzalez through season's end. Club CEO Jeff Moorad told me for a VoiceofSanDiego.org column that there was "no chance" the Padres would trade Gonzalez this month. As for the Heath Bell trade talks, the Dodgers were among the clubs that inquired about Bell, perhaps a sign that they want to bolster closer Jonathan Broxton for the stretch drive.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Thursday Tidbits

The potential trade of Heath Bell to the Marlins is interesting on several levels. The Marlins today described as "steep" the request for either of the two starting pitchers who interest the Padres -- hard-throwing lefties Sean West and Andrew Miller.

Update: Buster Olney of ESPN just reported that Florida is unwilling to part with either West or Miller for Bell.

The Marlins do regard Bell as a good value, even though his arbitration status will yield a huge pay raise. Florida is slightly more open to trading Rick VandenHurk, a power pitcher who shut down the Padres in San Diego last week. Mike Adams, who is having another dominant summer, could step in for Bell.

For the last two years, the Padres have tried to gauge the trade value of third-baseman Kevin Kouzmanoff, but as of recently, nothing was happening there. Kouzmanoff is eligible for arbitration, too.

I'm hearing Double-A outfielder Luis Durango is attracting trade interest. One of the fastest players in all of minor league baseball, Durango was blocked by draft pick Cedric Hunter until several weeks into the season. Now, he's blocked by Tony Gwynn. The Padres might package Durango and pitcher Kevin Correia in a deal.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Signs of life down below


In weeks ahead, I'll write about several prospects among Padres minor leaguers. I'll also revisit the top-10 prospects story I wrote on the farm system last December

Here, I'll present a few statistics the system is generating as a whole.

Let's start with the hitters. I like to say that when a Padres minor leaguer draws a walk, an angel gets its wings. That's what the Padres seem to believe. Anyway, the Padres are again staffing the heavens with seraphim. As an aside, if you like poetry that's accessible, read Questions about Angels by Billy Collins. Dude's a madman, but a lucid one.

Naturally, Padres minor leaguers are first in walks per plate appearance. No wonder, then, that the system is also first in on-base percentage. But there's heft to the body of work. The lads are fifth in slugging, eight spots better than last year. Hence a combined on-base and slugging percentage (OPS) that's second among the 30 systems. Third in batting average and fourth in both runs per game and RBI per plate appearance, the system is having a strong year with the bat.

What's more, a typical Padres minor leaguer now actually can run faster than Herman Munster; the system is 14th in stolen bases per plate appearance, one year after finishing last.

The pitchers are having a good year, too. True to the organizational mantra -- pound the strikezone -- the six staffs combined are third in walks per inning.

Tenth in overall ERA, the pitchers are also in the top third in home runs per inning (eighth) and strikeouts per inning (10th).

I'm told that, starting in 2007, the Padres selected more for strikeout potential, and it's evident with their pitching staff at Fort Wayne, a low-A club in Indiana. The staff was the first among the minors' 180 clubs to amass 401 strikeouts. For that feat the pitchers were given a trophy by a firm that invests 401K funds.

If it's the same company that "managed" my 401K, the trophy soon will implode.

The system's 253-222 record, good for a .533 win rate, is fourth among the 30.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Padres layoffs

Sad but not surprising that 13 Padres employees outside of baseball operations were laid off. The new CEO, Jeff Moorad, has specific plans for retooling the business side -- including creating new jobs.

I know some of the people who were fired and respect them. The club's poor season on the field is obscuring some good work off it. So far, attendance actually has exceeded what the Padres projected. Last offseason, when I reported that Padres home attendance likely would fall short of 2 million for the first time since 1995, several readers told me I was understating the problem. They told me it would drop below 1.5 million. Give some credit to Padres sales and front-office staff that it likely will not drop that far. At least not this year. My guess, it ends up at about 1.9 million.

As for the baseball front office's future, that's another subject for another day, but I expect Moorad will make some changes there, too, although likely not until after the season. Some decisions there might be deferred until 2010, pending further evaluation.

The big picture here is that the pie is shrinking, at an alarming rate. When the Padres moved into Petco Park, their season-ticket base was about 20,000. Now it's well under 10,000. That's scary. New ballpark. Two division titles. Four winning seasons in a row. But a huge dropoff in season-ticket sales.

Moorad tells me that it's not unusual for season-tickets to decline after the novelty of a new ballpark wears off. True. But I know that CEO Larry Lucchino and his staffers projected about 3 million in home attendance for the several years after the ballpark opened.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Baseball under water

My 15 years as a Padres beat reporter put me close to a variety of Padres teams, so it's only natural that people ask me where things now stand.

Here is where this franchise now stands: on the bottom of the ocean floor.

This is the worst Padres team I've been around.

It gives me no joy to write these words, but were these Padres in the American League East, they would lose 120 games.

Worse, the team is as flat as the floor of Death Valley.

Players who have yet to do anything in the major leagues appear overly comfortable. Such as the rookie who lounged in the clubhouse while the rest of the team's hitters met in a separate room. Such as the players who chatted on cellphones 25 minutes before a game. Or hobnobbed with friends in a clubhouse tunnel 30 minutes before first pitch.

None of this is surprising.

The message from owner John Moores many months ago was that this season does not matter. The past several months have been about cutting costs, shedding payroll, shopping any player who is eligible for arbitration or close to hitting his performing bonuses.

Performance is taking a back seat to dollar imperatives. Like when Brian Giles flat-lined well below .200 for more than two months, yet the Padres refused to bench him. The front office was desperate to unload Giles' $9 million salary and believed the only way to do it was to play Giles and hope he got hot. He never did.

Resilient organizations can weather lean times by producing young talent that outperforms its low salaries. Once again, however, the Padres are getting negative returns from their farm system. A team of lesser financial means such as the Marlins, with a majors-low payroll of $37 million, is reminding the Padres what can be done with excellent scouting, strong player development and a coherent front office (a front office, I might add, far less top-heavy than San Diego's).

So far, based strictly on what we've seen in the major leagues from homegrown Padres, the farm system that Moores hired Sandy Alderson to construct has been a bust. So far, this team's most exciting young position players are a Rule V draftee (Everth Cabrera) taken from Colorado's low Single-A club last December and an outfielder (Tony Gwynn) plucked from talent-rich Milwuakee in a salary dump two months ago. On the pitching side, homegrown starters such as Josh Geer, Wade LeBlanc and Cesar Ramos -- all taken fairly high in the draft -- have yet to show they can become anything more than No. 5 candidates, at best.

The front office that insisted that hitting coach Wally Joyner was a problem last summer and replaced him with Jim Lefebvre has discovered maybe Joyner wasn't a problem. Some hitters -- not all -- have tuned out Lefebvre. Some never tuned in, because they associated him with Alderson and Fuson.

Sure, the Padres have been hit hard by injuries.

The club badly misses the know-how and fire of players now injured, such as David Eckstein, Chris Young and Jake Peavy.

Were you surprised when those players were injured? I was not, despite knowing that each of them trains quite hard.

It had to be demoralizing for Padres players to see a productive, good teammate such as Scott Hairston get traded for three minor leaguers this month.

What's more, frequent losing and the long summer will make any team look flat. In April, the Padres looked perky and resourceful.

But this year, the Padres are plumbing new depths. One should hope this is the bottom. I doubt that it is.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Moorad on Gonzalez

Might the Padres trade Adrian Gonzalez? Not a chance of it anytime soon, if soon means before October. And even in the offseason, he absolutely will not be going onto the trade block, says Jeff Moorad. The CEO didn't rule out listening to other clubs at some point this offseason, which only makes sense. Here is my related column for voiceofsandiego.org --http://tinyurl.com/adriangonzalez ... Chatted with pitching coach Darren Balsley today about Mat Latos and Tim Stauffer. Balsley tends to be measured, but he's thrilled to work with Latos. He is encouraged that Stauffer was going after hitters on Monday.

Stauffer prompts a brief digression here. When he nobly revealed a shoulder ailment in the summer of 2003, not long after the Padres drafted him, the club was able to sign him for about $1.7 million less than it planned to offer him. I still wonder where that money went, especially the following year, when the Padres went against their scouts and chose Matt Bush over Stephen Drew...The Marlins are in town, which usually makes for an interesting opponent. I know the Marlins never have won a division title, but they do have two World Series trophies. And in other years, I've been impressed by how competitive they can be despite extremely low payrolls. Plus, the weather in Miami would destroy many San Diegans, and the rainstorms can disrupt a pitching staff. Maybe the Padres should study how the Marlins go about it. I know they have some excellent scouts and a streamlined, coherent front office.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Edgar and Jake

Edgar Gonzalez was at Petco Park today, two days after taking a fastball to the helmet. Padres are optimistic that he'll make a complete recovery...Here is an article I wrote on Jake Peavy for VoiceofSanDiego.org: http://tinyurl.com/jakepeavy ... Heath Bell livened up the Padres' clubhouse today, delivering a full-sized lounge chair that doubles as an electric wheelchair. Everth Cabrera and Tony Gwynn took turns riding it around the clubhouse. Bell had a friend build the chair for Mark Merila, the former Padres bullpen catcher who has made a strong comeback from chemotherapy for a brain tumor. Merila is a daily bright spot for the Padres. I wrote an article on him for next month's edition of San Diego magazine.

As for Adrian Gonzalez and talk that the Padres might sit him soon, not tonight. Gonzalez made it clear he expects to be in the lineup. And, after a soak in the hot tub, he is...Update: Gonazalez hit a home run to left field in the sixth inning. Two days ago, I wrote that he looks overly tired.

Heard some good things yesterday from an American League scout about a few Padres prospects. Among the players the scout likes are pitchers Wynn Pelzer and Jeremy Hefner. The same AL evaluator said Allan Dykstra, the Padres' first-round pick, looks "awful" right now. "Pelzer is similar to a (Mat) Latos, a power arm with a lot of upside," said Mike Wickham, Padres director of minor league operations. Pelzer needs to sharpen his accuracy. If that happens, the Padres say he could fashion a success story like Bell's. For what it's worth, I enjoyed watching Pelzer at the Cal League All-Star game earlier this month. He had his command that night and was dominant with a fastball that reached 96 miles-per-hour.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

A look at Latos

The running joke at Petco Park today is that the Padres hired a new radar-gun operator because seeing Mat Latos would've been overwhelming for the veteran. See, Latos' fastball races toward 94 miles-per-hour, a rarity for Padres pitching prospects of recent vintage.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Travel nightmare

It's easy to depict the Padres as cheapskates, and more fodder came this week when Adrian Gonzalez and Heath Bell tried to take three flights to the All-Star Game, then, after two travel snafus, ended up driving to St. Louis, bleary-eyed.

Both players were dragging even a few days later.

As an aside, I believe the Padres are making a mistake in not resting Gonzalez, who has played in every game and also tends to play winter ball. He is passionate about staying in the lineup, which is hugely to his credit. But he looks overly tired to me. Did so for parts of the last two summers as well. It's up to the club to protect a player when his fatigue is detracting from his performance.

Back to the travel fiasco. Don't blame this misadventure on the Padres' cutting corners financially.

Gonzalez and Bell each were offered first-class airline tickets by Major League Baseball, with one stop along the way, said Brian Prilaman, the Padres' travel secretary. They instead chose another flight plan that was 50 minutes faster, but entailed riding on three airlines and connecting through Las Vegas and Indianapolis.

Many All-Stars choose to rent a private jet. Brian Giles lined up two options on a jet for Gonzalez and Bell, from San Francisco following Sunday's game. "That would have cost $45,000," Bell told me today.

It's easy for me to say it, but I think the $45,000 would've been well-spent. Each player would've paid about $22,000, not a big sum relative to their salaries. Further, MLB would've reimbursed them about $1,5000-$3,000, the price of two first-class tickets.

Gonzalez and Bell deserved to go to the All-Star game in comfort. Whether the Padres should've paid the $45,000 for a private jet, I'll let you decide.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Peavy, draft

I'll write more about Jake Peavy for voiceofsandiego.org soon. Draftee Kendall Korbal might get a mention, too. Korbal had Tommy John surgery on Thursday. Strange. A 21st-round pick from Blinn College in Texas, Korbal hadn't thrown a professional pitch, yet here he was in San Diego having surgery. Padres draft overseer Grady Fuson says the club knew Korbal had an arm ailment but took him anyway, then signed him for less after the post-draft exam showed he needed elbow surgery. "We think he has some upside," Fuson said.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Peavy expects to return in four weeks

Jake Peavy received encouraging news from a Padres doctor this afternoon and talked excitedly of pitching again in August.

"I think I'll be back pitching in four weeks," Peavy said. "I'm going by what the doctors told me."

"It actually went very well -- more encouraging than I expected," said Peavy's agent, Barry Axelrod.

Peavy walked out of Scripps Clinic without a walking boot, then performed exercises at Petco Park. He had been in a walking boot since mid-June because of a damaged tendon in his right ankle. A negative report today could have moved Peavy toward surgery.

Brring a setback, Peavy said he expects to pitch in simulated games, then pitch for the Padres by late August.

Peavy, who last pitched on June 13, told Axelrod that if his physical rehab goes well, he expects to return to the Padres without going to the minors.

"His ankle, according to him, was worse five weeks ago when he pitched and went seven innings," Axelrod said. "He goes, 'I don't need rehab. Why would I rehab (in the minors)? If I get this thing to where I feel good and can build my shoulder back up, I can go five or six innings right here.' That's Jake. If it's possible, Jake will do it.

"He's going to be anxious to move ahead. He's been going nuts. He's Mr. Optimist. He's been telling me, it's going to be better."

In late May, Peavy nixed a trade to the White Sox, who offered four pitchers for him. Peavy said he hurt the ankle two days later -- on May 22 -- rounding third base. He pitched in three more games, then was put into a cast.

Peavy is 6-6 with a 3.97 ERA this year.


Tom Krasovic

This blog

Insidethepadres is a blog about the San Diego Padres. Now and then, I'll post news or an analytical piece. For 15 years, I covered the Padres as a beat reporter for the San Diego Union-Tribune. Tom Krasovic